César Franck

(1822—1890) Belgian-born French composer and organist

Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

(b Liège, 1822; d Paris, 1890).

Belg.‐born composer and organist (Fr. cit. 1870). He toured Belgium as a pianist at the age of 13. In 1835 he went to Paris, studying harmony with Reicha and was at the Paris Cons. from 1837 to 1842. On leaving the Cons. he concentrated on comp. and settled in Paris in 1843. In 1853 he became choirmaster, and in 1858 organist, of the church of Sainte‐Clotilde, Paris, where his outstanding ability as an improviser drew listeners from far and wide, incl. Liszt who in 1866 likened his skill to that of Bach. He was prof. of org. at the Cons. from 1872. Throughout these years as teacher and organist, his comps. were ignored by the general public. His pupils, led by d'Indy, organized a concert of his works in Jan. 1887, which, although poorly perf., pleased the uncomplaining composer, who subsequently wrote three of his finest works. The Sym. was received with incomprehension in 1889, but there was an enthusiastic response to the str. qt. He became Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 1885.

In his early works Franck was influenced by the opéra‐comique composers such as Grétry. His middle years were dominated by works of religious character, his oratorio Les Béatitudes occupying him for 10 years. In his later works he developed ‘cyclic form’ whereby a theme, modified or varied, recurs in each section of the work. His symphonic poems date from the late 1870s and the Variations Symphoniques for pf. and orch. from 1885. Franck's harmonic idiom, no doubt influenced by Wagner and by the org.‐loft, has a pungent individuality which exerted a powerful sway not only over his pupils but over a much later generation, e.g. Messiaen. His work also played a large part in restoring French taste for ‘pure music’, thereby opening the way for Debussy, Ravel, and others. Prin. comps.:


Le Valet de Fermeopéra‐comique

, (1851–2);




(1889–90, orch. by Chausson, d'Indy, and others).


Les Éolides


Le Chasseur maudit


Les Djinns

(1884, pf. and orch.);

Variations Symphoniques

(1885, pf. and orch.);


(1887–8, with ch.); sym. in D minor (1886–8).



, biblical eclogue, soloists, ch., orch. (1843–6);

La Tour de Babel

, oratorio (1865);

Les Béatitudes

, oratorio (1869–79);


, sop., ch., orch. (1871–2, orch. item and male ch. added 1874);



Messe solennelle

, bass, org. (1858);


, 3 vv. (STB), org., hp., vc., db. (1860); 3 , soloist, ch., org., db.;

Panis angelicus

, ten., org., hp., vc., db. (1872).

chamber music:

pf. trio (1834);

Trois Trios ConcertantsTrio Concertant

, pf., vn., vc. (1841–2); 4th (1842); pf. quintet (1878–9); sonata, pf., vn. (1886, also arr. for pf. and vc. and for pf. and fl.); str. qt. in D major (1889).


Souvenirs d'Aix‐la‐Chapelle


Fantasia on 2 Polish Airs


Prélude, Choral, et Fugue


Prélude, Aria et Final



Pièces pour Grand OrguePetites PiècesPièces pour Grand OrguePièce heroique

6 (1862); 44 (1863); 3 (incl. ) (1878);


Subjects: Music.

Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.